Non-profit sector workers, can you relate to the following? The conference, fundraiser, trial, or grant application deadline is tomorrow, so you put in earbuds, put on another pot of coffee, and move faster to get it all done. You might look up from your action items and unread emails for a split second to wonder whether your work is actually reinforcing power inequalities rather than challenging them. But you figure that’s a question for another day, when you will have more time. But when will you make more time?

We can relate. And we know that when we move too fast, we are bound to make mistakes. We are likely to default to dominant assumptions and business-as-usual ways of working.

Business-as-usual is colonialism as usual, cissexism as usual, ableism as usual, white supremacy as usual, patriarchy as usual, capitalism as usual. The unjust and damaging impacts of the usual are the reason we need social change work to begin with.

At West Coast LEAF, we know what it is like to work at a fast pace. We also know that we can cause harm when we rush ahead with work that is not backed up by intentional listening, learning, un-learning, and re-learning. So, we have adopted a new routine to start building these essential practices into our work: a monthly reading/viewing and discussion group.

Last fall, West Coast LEAF launched a monthly decolonizing discussion group. Staff members take turns assigning texts and videos by Indigenous thinkers, leaders, artists, and change-makers—to be read or watched by the entire team. Then, we add time to our regular staff meeting to talk about what we learned, what we are still wondering about, and how we plan to apply our learning to our work and lives.

Photo of a red sticker on a black wall. In white writing the sticker reads " Decolonize This Place" With Decolonize on the line above this place.
Photo Credit: Lily Dustbin, Creative Commons
The decolonizing discussion group has been one small step towards implementing the Reconciliation Plan West Coast LEAF adopted in the spring of 2018, which acknowledges that “anti-racist, decolonial work requires continual evaluation and reflection, and that this introspective work is never done.” In particular, the Reconciliation Plan asserts that “non-Indigenous people, including the non-Indigenous staff and board of West Coast LEAF, must educate themselves” in order to avoid perpetuating harm.

The decolonizing discussion group generated such rich learning that West Coast LEAF decided to create another monthly discussion group focusing on works by trans, Two-Spirit, non-binary, intersex, and gender non-conforming people, which will kick off this month. West Coast LEAF knows that it will take continued work and learning to bring our work fully in line with our new, more deeply trans-inclusive mandate, which we announced in September of last year. The new discussion group is just one of the necessary steps.

It inspires awe and gratitude to consider all the change-making knowledge that has been put out into the world. Speaking the truth can come at a cost for people who are marginalized—not only the energy that goes into intellectual and emotional labour (often unpaid), but also the risk of being subjected to harassment, threats, hate speech, career repercussions, backlash against entire communities, and abuse of all kinds.

As an organization that is currently staffed mostly by settlers and cis people, West Coast LEAF has a responsibility to make use of available resources to educate ourselves, rather than expecting the communities who engage with us to do that difficult and painful work.


We believe that decolonizing our work, and challenging our cissexism and transphobia, are crucial aspects of everyone’s job.


Here is the model West Coast LEAF has used for our discussion groups.

Step 1: Set aside the time

We intentionally scheduled our discussions for our regular staff meeting time and clearly communicated to all staff that reading and preparation count as hours of work. We wanted to treat learning and reflecting as a top priority and integral part of our work, not an optional add-on.

Most social justice organizations cannot add anything to their workloads. Prioritizing a discussion group may mean refusing other commitments or extending the timelines for existing work.

In other words: if the discussion group is identified as a priority, treat it that way.

Photo of a group of people holding a banner that reads "Unlearn Transphobia"
Photo Credit: Ross Burgess, Creative Commons
Step 2: Create a rotating roster of facilitators

All West Coast LEAF staff members, whatever their role within the organization, share the responsibility for selecting resources and facilitating discussion. We believe that decolonizing our work, and challenging our cissexism and transphobia, are crucial aspects of everyone’s job.

Though we differ in our life experiences and prior exposure to the ideas and information under discussion, each of us has something valuable to bring to the conversation. Each of us is curious about something a little different, and our curiosity motivates us to seek out learning and resources we can share with the team.


Our process is far from perfect. With that said, we welcome you to adopt any aspect of our discussion group concept in your own workplace, home, community organization, activist group, or anywhere else learning is needed.


Step 3: Identify some topics and resources

It can be helpful to provide some structure for facilitators by identifying some important topics and recommended resources to assign as readings/viewings.

When we launched the decolonizing discussion group, we set up a shared folder where we could collect recommended resources. We identified a breadth of topics to address through the decolonizing discussion.

So far, we have had discussions about families and kinship care, treaties and land title, Indigenous feminism, resistance and resurgence, gender and sexuality, Indigenous people and the colonial state legal system, the Indian Act, residential schools, Coast Salish history and culture, and gendered violence. (Those hyperlinks lead to actual resources used in our discussion group!)

The topic of our first gender discussion group on August 20 will be language, including pronouns.

The facilitators save their resources in a shared folder so that we can refer back to them and use them to guide our work.

Photo of pink spray paint stencil on a wall that reads "fight the cis-tem"l
Photo Credit: aesthetics of crisis, Creative Commons
Step 4: Read, reflect, and share

One of the questions we commonly use to guide the discussion groups is: How can we apply our learning to our work at West Coast LEAF?

We read, listen, and watch with this lens and come prepared to meetings with notes, highlighting, and jottings in the margins of articles. During the discussion, we often refer back to resources we’ve engaged with previously. We exchange ideas and support each other to learn—and ultimately, to grow.

Our process is far from perfect. With that said, we welcome you to adopt any aspect of our discussion group concept in your own workplace, home, community organization, activist group, or anywhere else learning is needed.

And isn’t learning needed everywhere?

Alana Prochuk manages legal education programs for West Coast LEAF. Their recent recommended reads include Heart Berries by Therese Marie Mailhot and Death Threat by Vivek Shraya and Ness Lee. Their list of items on hold at the library is typically pretty long.